Environmental Crime and Power

17 September 2019 – Gent (Belgium)

This seminar focused on the topic of environmental crime and power. It had the intent of covering the topic from different angles such as the power of state agencies in regulating but also facilitating environmental crime, the role of (multinational) corporations in causing and preventing environmental crime, the connection between environmental and organized crime, and also the involvement of non-governmental organizations in preventing and controlling environmental crime. In exploring this topic of environmental crime and power, insights from scientific research by established as well as more junior scholars and experiences from practitioners in environmental governance were brought together.

Prof. Tanya Wyatt (Northumbria University) kicked-off the day by discussing different ways in which power can be conceptualized. She explained that power is relational and can both exist with and over someone or -thing else. The key-note speakers who followed addressed the issue of power in the context of environmental crime in different contexts. Prof. Christopher Stefes (University of Colorado Denver & Ecologic Institute Berlin) explored the relationship between environmental crime and authoritarian rule in Armenia. Dr. Delon Alain Omrow (York University) gave lively examples of how power causes environmental and other injustices based on his fieldwork in Guyana. Using the framework of state-corporate crime by Kramer & Michalowski, Omrow differentiated between these different types of power as they relate to environmental crime, allowing environmental criminologists can apply more apt tools and analysis to particular confluences of injury. Dr. Giulia Giarda (Maastricht University) explained how bunker oil as a product and an industry provide many opportunities for fraudulent and environmentally harmful behavior and explained how much of these activities are lawful (but awful). Prof. Wim Huisman (VU Amsterdam) shared the results of his study on the criminal lifecourses of corporations. In two panel discussions, NGO representatives and environmental regulators talked about the biggest power challenge they have faced in their work: Jasper Teulings (Greenpeace), Lydia de Leeuw (SOMO), Iwona Mertin (Eurogroup for Animals), Henk Reussink (Dutch Transport Inspectorate), Daan Molenaar (DCMR Environmental Regulator) and Yves Van den Abbeele (Belgian Federal Environmental Police). The panel members also illustrated how power gets manifested or expressed in interaction with powerful actors and how their organization successfully deals with these power dynamics.

In addressing these power imbalances, several speakers talked about a strategic redistribution of power through taking a partnership rather than domination approach rather than claiming a shift of power from one (polluting) entity to an (environmental) other. This is also in line with a thread of pragmatism, however reluctant, which ran through the conference. Giulia explained that often only the industry has the knowledge and technical expertise to understand what is going into the waste oil blend components to make bunker oil, and thus, environmental regulators were required to work with bunker oil blend component providers. Problematically, these blend components tend to be increasingly cheaper ingredients and dirtier byproducts in order to retain business, although burning these dirtier fuels leads to more pollution. Similarly, Iwona Mertin’s roundtable presentation on the online pet trade discussed how her organization sought to occupy a middle ground between radical animal rights groups and sellers/breeders, in order to be most politically effective.

Another reoccurring line of argumentation throughout the day was the question about the environmental implications of following the letter versus the spirit of the law, especially as even definitions of the letter of the law are subject to fierce disagreements of interpretation. Many speakers pled for beyond compliance solutions as answers to weak or absent supranational environmental law. Take the example of fuel blends which contain much higher (300 times) sulfur contents when destined for the African petrol markets as compared to fuels for the European market. This practice is perfectly legal because standards for sulfur contents in fuel are lower in Africa, but dirtier fuel obviously leads to higher pollution.

Several speakers also spoke about the aligned interests of economic and political elites and their effect on the environment. Stefes, in his talk on environmental crime in Armenia, implied that environmental crime through the exploitation of natural resources becomes necessary to coopt elites, and occurs in a special way to feed the cycle of economic and political power, compared to the growth-oriented model of environmental exploitation in democracies. In both panel discussions, examples were given of how the economic and political importance of environmental wrongdoers hinders effective enforcement.






Registration & morning coffee/tea


Kick-off: What is power?

Tanya Wyatt

Northumbria University (UK)


Keynote 1 – Staying in Power: Environmental Crime and Authoritarian Rule

Christoph Stefes

University of Colorado Denver (US)


Coffee/tea break


Roundtable 1 – How civil society actors experience interaction with the powerful

Moderator: Jenny Maher

Lydia de Leeuw

SOMO Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (Nthls)

Jasper Teulings

Head of legal office, Greenpeace International (INT)

Iwona Mertin

Programme Leader Companion Animals, Eurogroup (EU)




Keynote 2 – Mining in Guyana

Delon Omrow

York University (Can)


Roundtable 2 – How environmental regulators experience interaction with the powerful

Moderator: Lieselot Bisschop

Frans Geysels

Chief commissioner - Federal Belgian Police – Environment Unit (Bel)

Kathleen Desaegher

(former) Prosecutor on environmental and white collar crime – vice chair of European Network of Environmental Prosecutors (Bel)

Daan Molenaar

Department Head of Inspection & Enforcement, DCMR (Rotterdam environmental inspectorate) (Nthls)


Coffee, tea and refreshments


Keynote 3 – Bunker fraud, organizational crime & power

Giulia Giarda

Maastricht University (Nthls)


Keynote 4 – Life course approaches to studying corporate environmental crime

Wim Huisman

VU Amsterdam (Nthls)


Closing remarks

Yogi Hendlin

Erasmus University Rotterdam (Nthls)




Campus Aula, Universiteitstraat 4-6, 9000 Gent, Belgium

More information about travelling to Gent 


Gent is also hosting the European Society of Criminology Conference in that week, so if you need a hotel room for our seminar, we advise you to book a room soon.


This year’s organizers are Lieselot Bisschop (Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands), Tanya Wyatt (Northumbria University, UK) and Jenny Maher (University of South Wales, UK).

Thanks to the following sponsors, we can host this seminar on Environmental Crime & Power as a free event: Erasmus Initiative on Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity, research programme Monitoring Safety & Security of Erasmus School of Law, Northumbria University, Ghent University, University of Essex, University of South Wales, University of Plymouth, British Society of Criminology and Erasmus Trustfund.

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